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When Schools' Zero-Tolerance Policies Make Zero Sense

Being a typical 14 year-old freshman, Andrew Mikel II got bored one December day and decided to use the plastic tube from a pen to blow small plastic pellets at his fellow students. 

As it happens, the federal Gun-Free Schools Act requires that students who bring weapons to school be expelled.  Accordingly, Virginia's Spotsylvania High School school, which deemed Mikel's pen to be a "projectile weapon," expelled him for possession and use of a weapon

Mikel was also charged with three counts of misdemeanor assault. Was it assault?  Technically, yes -- but is a pen-tube really a "projectile weapon" if a person's mouth is what's supplying the projectile force? And how many students will wind up with criminal records if we criminalize spitballs? What if Mikel had taken a mouthful of water from the drinking fountain and spit it at another student?  Would the result have been the same? 

There appears to be at least one person at Spotsylvania High School who sees the situation for what it really is. According to documents released in response to a FOIA request filed by Mikel's father, the school's hearing officer told school administrators that he was "not at all comfortable expelling or suspending this student for the remainder of the year."

Fortunately, Mikel will be cleared of the misdemeanor criminal charges if he participates in a year-long diversion program. For now, he is being home-schooled, and the Rutherford Institute, a Virginia civil liberties organization, is appealing his expulsion in court.

"What happened to Andrew Mikel is an example of how oppressive zero-tolerance policies have become," said John W. Whitehead, president of Rutherford Institute. "School officials have developed a very dangerous mind-set that allows virtually no freedom for students, while at the same time criminalizing childish behavior."

Guest blogger Ruth Carter is a law student in her final semester at Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law at Arizona State University.

Posted by Laurel Newby on February 3, 2011 at 01:10 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)

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